New Math? A Court Error Leads to Sentencing Confusion that Hurts Defendant’s Jail Time


By Layla Mustafa

SACRAMENTO – Sometimes court sentencing seems like “new math”—everyone is confused.

Here in Sacramento County Superior Court this week, a case was called back for having an outstanding diversion. The discussion began with an initial request for dismissal of the diversion but quickly spiraled as some court errors were revealed, indicating that the defendant may be facing greater time served.

Defendant Ricky Mitchell was thought to have had his case resolved on Oct. 21, when the judge gave the final ruling. However, his case was returned to court because of an outstanding diversion case that had not been ruled on the day of his hearing.

Assistant Public Defender Michael Mullan, however, was unable to inform Mitchell of the proceedings—since the case was thought to have been closed, Mullan claimed he no longer had access to Mitchell’s contact information.

Mullan asked Deputy District Attorney Fredrick Gotha to consider dismissing the diversion case, arguing that since Mitchell was already sentenced to 110 consecutive days, it could be reasonable to dismiss the additional 20 consecutive days that would incur if the outstanding diversion was ruled on.

Gotha agreed to a continuance, but did not necessarily promise whether or not a dismissal would be possible.

At that moment the court clerk shared new information with the parties.

According to the clerk, in September 2018 Mitchell was sentenced on Count 3. Then, on Oct. 21, 2020 Mitchell was deleted from diversion. However, instead of sentencing him on Counts 1 and 2—and taking his plea—he was mistakenly re-sentenced on Count 3. His intended sentence was actually for 180 days, 90 days for Count 1 and another 90 days for Count 2.

Essentially, instead of being sentenced to 180 days on Counts 1 and 2, it was inadvertently modified for Count 3 for 20 consecutive days.

Mullan—digesting the news of his client potentially facing a greater amount of time than what he tried to originally dismiss—attempted to see if there was any other way to resolve the brewing dilemma.

“So he was present on that date, and that was what was imposed. Is there any way we can’t just stick with what was imposed on the 21st?” said Mullan.

Unfortunately for both the defendant and his attorney, Judge Michael Sweet responded, “There was a mistake made that needs to be rectified.”

Mullan undertook a couple more attempts at asking the court to consider a modification in which Mitchell is sentenced to 20 days on a different count and potentially enters a plea. This modification would make it so that the judge’s ruling on Mitchell’s case would result in 20 days—not 180 days of time served.

However, due to the confusion and error surrounding the case, the court decided to call in the defendant and make the necessary corrections. Mitchell will now potentially face 180 days as opposed to the 20 days Mullan had been fighting against—both of which Mitchell was not even (and may still not be) aware of.

The court will reconvene on the case in Dept. 61 on Jan. 13, 2021.

Layla Mustafa is a recent graduate from UC Davis. She is currently applying to law school and living in the Bay Area.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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